The word out of Anaheim is that the Angels will not pick up Dan Haren’s $15.5mil option. Before this season, that would have been nearly unthinkable. Upon joining the A’s rotation in 2005, Haren reeled off 7 straight ace seasons. In those 7 seasons, Haren never: 1) pitched less than 215 innings, 2) pitched to an ERA- worse than 94, 3) had an xFIP- worse than 86, or 4) complied less than 4 wins above replacement level. According to Fangraphs, Haren was worth an average of $21.4 mil per season over that stretch.

But Haren was legitimately worse this year. He had back issues that limited him to 176 IP, and cost him a couple miles per hour off his fastball. The result was a lower k/9 rate (7.2), less groundballs (40%), more walks per nine (1.9), and the worst ERA of his career (4.33) since becoming a full time starter. So, the Angels will either try to trade Haren in the next couple of days, or let him become a free agent.

Either way, the Yankees should be in hot pursuit.  Haren’s option includes a $3.5 mil buyout, so the real cost to the Angels of taking back Haren for one more year would only be $12 mil. That means that Anaheim GM Jerry DiPoto is valuing Haren as a risky, average player who is not worth more than a one-year investment.

In other words, despite Haren’s All-Star ceiling, the asking price will be very low — likely a C-level prospect at most. If he does become a free agent, that means teams did not think Haren is worth $15.5 plus a low-level prospect. He will be forced to sign a pillow contract (a la Edwin Jackson)– taking less money on a one-year deal to try to rehab his value and land one more big free agent deal.

Despite the injury and his 2011 tumble, Dan Haren is well worth the investment. The seven-year block of consistent excellence speaks for itself, and places Haren in elite company among starting pitchers. This year’s struggles are a concern, but it wasn’t as bad as it seems on the surface. Haren had a mildly-unlucky trifecta of a high HR/FB (12.8%), low strand rate (71%), and slightly elevated BABIP (.302).   His ERA was 10% worse than average, but his xFIP says his skills were still 3% better than average. It’s possible that the Angels know something about Haren’s back that is scaring them off. But shortly after returning from the DL, he looked like vintage Haren in September: 35IP, 3.31ERA, 7.9k/9 to 1.3 bb/9.

The Yankees need to do their due diligence. They need to thoroughly scour Haren’s medical records, get him an MRI, and have a doctor check him out — preferably not the guy who did Michael Pineda’s exam. If there is not convincing evidence that Haren’s back will be a chronic problem, the Yankees can go a long way to solving their rotation questions by bringing him to Boogie Down. With Sabathia and Haren slotting in as twin aces, the Yankees have a great chance of filling in the back of the rotation with three of the following:  Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova, Hughes, Phelps. The worst case scenario still gives the Yankees a solidly above-average rotation. And if Cashman can work out one year deals with Kuroda and Pettitte, the Yankees could have a rotation that is the pride of the American League, with little commitment past 2013.